Middle East

Egypt army backs Sisi as presidential candidate

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Media captionThe BBC’s Orla Guerin: “Another military strongman for Egypt just three years after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak”

Egypt's top military body has given its approval for armed forces chief Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to run for the presidency.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) said: "The people's trust in Sisi is a call that must be heeded as the free choice of the people."

Security sources say he will resign and announce his candidacy within days.

Field Marshal Sisi led the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi in July, following mass protests against him.

An election must take place by mid-April. Correspondents say Field Marshal Sisi would be likely to win, given his popularity and the lack of any serious rivals.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people backed his candidacy at a rally in Cairo, after the field marshal said he wanted to gauge "public demand".

At the same time, almost 50 people were killed in clashes between security forces and protesters demanding Mr Morsi's reinstatement.

Referring to the field marshal, the alliance led by Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood said on Sunday that the opposition protests showed "the people want the execution of the murderer" and not to "appoint the murderer as president".

'Unite the people'

On Monday, the Scaf held an hours-long meeting to discuss "the demands of the people" for Field Marshal Sisi's candidacy.

During the meeting, interim President Adly Mansour announced that he had promoted him from general to the army's top rank, reportedly as a final honour before he stands down.

The state news agency Mena later reported that the Scaf had unanimously "endorsed" Field Marshal Sisi to run for president.

The state-run al-Ahram newspaper also said his chief-of-staff, Gen Sedky Sobhy, had been chosen to replace him as head of the armed forces.

A senior military official told the AFP news agency that the field marshal would step down and announce his run within days. He wanted to "unite the people, restore security and Egypt's international standing", the official added.

On Sunday, speculation that the field marshal would stand intensified after Mr Mansour said presidential elections would be held before parliamentary elections, switching the order laid out in last year's transitional "road map".

The 59-year-old former military intelligence chief was appointed head of the armed forces and defence minister by Mr Morsi in August 2012.

But after mass protests demanding Mr Morsi's resignation took place on the first anniversary of his taking office, it was the field marshal who gave the president an ultimatum that he would have to satisfy the public's demands or see the army step in.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption On Saturday, tens of thousands of people called on Field Marshal Sisi to stand

When Mr Morsi refused, Field Marshal Sisi suspended the constitution and announced the formation of a technocratic interim government.

Since then, more than 1,000 people have been killed and thousands of members of Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood have been detained in a crackdown by the interim authorities, who have designated the Islamist movement a terrorist group.

Mr Morsi and many other senior Brotherhood leaders are currently being held on a variety of charges, including incitement to murder and conspiring to commit terrorist acts.

On Tuesday, Mr Morsi will go on trial with about 130 others, charged with the murder of prison guards during his escape from jail during the 2011 uprising.

In a separate development on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Baha al-Din, who had called for a more inclusive political process, tendered his resignation. A letter posted on his Facebook page said that a "crucial stage of the road map" was now over and a new phase had begun.